Back in 2012, when an apocalypse was still a distinct possibility, startups were nothing more than a Silicon Valley buzzword, and working for one was hardly a legitimate career.
10 years and a pandemic later, it is astonishing how much things have changed. As home to over 4,000 tech-enabled startups, Singapore has since reinvented itself into a leading startup hub with a vibrant startup ecosystem.
But while sowing the seeds of entrepreneurialism and starting a business in Singapore is easy enough, going global is an entirely different ballgame.
A city of startups
Singapore’s growth into a startup hub should not come as a surprise.
After all, no sane government would ignore the allure of the startup economy and its multiplier effect. Not only do startups create jobs and attract foreign investments, but they also encourage the innovation of new technologies, business models and ideas to reinvigorate society.
As a result, there has been a monumental push to develop a startup culture over the last few years.
Besides generous funding and business-friendly policies, an abundance of incubators, accelerators, hackathons, and pitch competitions has resulted in an explosion of startups.
If you are still in doubt, all it takes is one quick scroll on social media to realise one thing — almost everyone has become a co-founder to some degree these days.
However, are we sacrificing quantity for quality?
Despite the sheer number of startups with billions of funding between them, few have made a mark for themselves on the international or even regional level.
The challenges of going global
As a small country, Singapore has a limited domestic market characterised by a small population with a high purchasing power and a penchant for tech solutions and sustainable products.
Therefore, what translates well locally might not necessarily succeed overseas since the sample size used to test a product does not reflect the needs of the regional market.
In a sense, the many offerings provided by Singapore startups are more targeted at mature markets in Japan, Korea, and the West. But since these markets have their own startups to serve their needs, a local startup would have to offer something unique to infiltrate these markets.
Another issue hindering Singapore startups from making their way into the global market is their lack of funds.
While it might sound odd, the majority of funding is concentrated in the early stages to get new ideas off the ground. But once established, startups often find themselves in a bind — reaching a plateau, yet unable to scale and expand as the competition for late-stage funding heats up.
Lastly, there is the possibility that excessive government grants are doing more harm than good. While such funding is paramount to encourage new businesses, it inevitably leads to the rise of ‘grantpreneurs’.
Long considered a dirty little secret in the startup ecosystem, ‘grantpreneurs’ keep their companies afloat through perpetual grants. Often, they are preoccupied with proposals rather than strategies, just so they can meet the necessary milestones to qualify for more funds.
In such scenarios, there is little desire to build a viable business and even less of a chance for it to go global.
Defying the odds
Over a decade ago, Singapore was a startup backwater where one would be hard-pressed to name a homegrown startup other than Creative Technologies.
But as the startup ecosystem grows, unicorns have emerged, and more businesses are finding success beyond our shores with their bold and novel ideas.
Grab, Ninja Van, and Love, Bonito are local startups that have become regional household names by offering innovative solutions catered to the needs of the local markets.
And despite not being a manufacturing hub for mass-market products, Secretlab and Razer have achieved immense success in a niche market producing world-class gaming equipment.
Now that Singapore has built the requisite infrastructure to support startup growth, it is only a matter of time before the new generation of Singapore startups goes global.
Moreover, the borderless nature of fintech and healthtech will potentially lower the barrier of entry for local startups to enter the international market.
The only questions are, how badly do our startups want to conquer the global market, and are they willing to rise to the challenges?
Featured Image Credit: Ohmyhome